Live streaming: Much more than skin deep

By Guo Yiming
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 26, 2017
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Industry leaders behind several of China’s most popular live streaming sites discuss the future of the industry during the Boao Forum for Asia on March 24. [Photo provided to]

If you think all internet celebrities riding the wave of China’s lucrative live streaming business have no soul and are making easy money with superficial appearance, you may need to think again, according to a group of industry insiders.

Equipped with smart phones and selfie sticks, live-streaming anchors are often stereotyped as boring "material girls"with tiny faces, sharp chins and immaculate makeup trying to seek attention and monetary rewards by showing off their cleavage in low-cut dresses.

Having cashed in on the latest live streaming boom, the people behind several of China’s most popular sites sought to dispel this general myth during the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) on March 24.

Live streaming is by no means an easy job, and one needs to be both talented, charming, skillful in interacting with a large audience, and have a sense of humor, said Feng Yousheng, founder of

From singing and dancing, playing video games, putting on makeup, even playing with a pet dog, almost every part of a live streamer’s life can come under the spotlight.

Compared to highly-choreographed shows on traditional media platforms, these live broadcasts of daily life might not be so perfect, said Chen Zhou, CEO of YY Live.

"Judging from the traditional point of view, these online celebrities should not earn so much quick money with their little tricks,"Chen said. "However, they are indeed quite good at keeping the audience online."And that is why the money tends to keep pouring in.

Besides the "Likes”, hearts and comments functions commonly seen on Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope, most Chinese platforms allow fans to purchase and send virtual gifts to the streaming stars to express their appreciation.

"Some of our most successful presenters broadcast live on our platform for over six hours a day, and they have to interact with audiences in the millions,"Chen said.

And this has become a million- or even billion-dollar business.

The big business

According to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), users of webcasting in the country had reached 344 million by the end of last June, accounting for almost half of the country's total internet users.

The number of active users reached 100 million last year, and about 15.1 to 20.7 percent watch live streaming of concerts, reality shows, sports and video games.

Its wide popularity has taken the industry to new monetary heights. According to some media reports, one live streaming website paid out as much as 390 million yuan (US$ 56.7 million) for its live-streamers in 2016.

Of course, not everyone has the right fit for a seemingly easy job, Chen noted that only 1 percent of people who have tested the business waters can hope to survive for long, and just 1 percent of this range of professionals are able to do a very good job.

Echoing Chen’s view about the high entry threshold for live-streamers, Li Lun, deputy editor-in-chief of, noted the booming live-streaming business is actually breaking the threshold of providing news and contents formerly monopolized by radio and TV broadcasting.

"In the age of new media, this format is bringing the content much closer to users with more interaction and transparency.”

Looming risks behind the boom

With an ever-growing fan base, constant capital pouring in, and more streaming sites emerging all the time, many see 2016 as the year officially kick-starting the "Age of Live Streaming Economy”, and project it to be another lucrative business following the success of the online gaming industry.

Behind the glowing prosperity, however, it’s not without its problems, cautioned Zhang Hongtao, president of the streaming site

Earlier this year, a 13-year-old girl is reportedly to have spent a total of 250,000 yuan (around US$36,335), the family’s entire savings, on her favorite live-streamer, triggering public debate on regulation of the emerging sector.

Some live-streaming anchors have even been caught in compromising positions and spreading illegal or erotic information during webcasting, according to various media reports.

All of this shows the need for tightened government regulation as well as self-discipline on the side of the streaming platforms, Zhang said.

China has already launched a blacklist system stipulating that once a live-streamer is caught in some improper conduct and hence expelled from one platform, the person cannot enter other sites.

"We totally welcome government regulation because that’s what it takes to create a healthy environment for the industry”, said Zhang. "On the other hand, we should also use the technology to engage in real-time monitoring to stop the distribution of improper content.”

Late last year, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet regulator, announced new policies for the sector, requiring content providers to obtain qualifications and set rules on monitoring user data.

Looking into the future, Zhang said that the year of 2017, following the craze last year, will mark the beginning of the "live streaming plus"model, in which it will finally be used as a tool to serve other industries like education, health care and entertainment.

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